It’s pretty simple: everybody ought to read this. The book begins as a clear-eyed assessment of the situation our civilization finds itself in, which is lousy to say the least. The “ancient sunlight” of the title refers to our resources, especially oil, which we plundered recklessly for the last hundred or so years to balloon into an overpopulated, resource-devouring species of six billion that isn’t anywhere near sustainable. The oil will run out in a few decades, species are dying all over the place, the biosphere is seriously damaged, and global warming is already a reality. A lot of what Hartmann’s talking about dovetails nicely with The Corporation, where Ray Anderson compares our culture to one of the early attempts at flight: we jumped off a cliff and we flap the wings, so we imagine we’re flying–but we’ll hit the ground soon enough.
To see all the evidence for ecological catastrophe lined up like this is unbelievably depressing. At first, I didn’t see much here that’s new, but Hartmann’s argument goes something like this: we like to believe that it’s “human nature” to abuse, plunder, pillage, fight, and dominate. In truth, this has only been the case for what he calls “Younger Cultures” which took rise about seven thousand years ago. Before then, humans led sustainable, cooperative, tribal lives for at least 100,000 years. If we can manage to retrieve at least a few of the values our ancestors held, there might be a way of surviving. Hartmann is realist enough to lay out the grim challenges ahead, but the second half of the book is guardedly hopeful.
All in all, there were only a few ideas here that I hadn’t come across before, but this is the first time I’ve seen them presented in such a concise and compelling fashion. It’s all here, well argued and clear-eyed. I can’t recommend it highly enough: if you’re alive today, you ought to read this.